Plow the Sidewalks


Making Snow Clearance a Municipal Responsibility

In Chicago, winter is always coming.

Developed in partnership between Access Living and Better Streets Chicago, Plow the Sidewalks seeks to make sidewalk snow and ice clearance a citywide municipal service.

Current System

Right now, the removal of snow and ice is the responsibility of adjacent property owners as outlined in the Municipal Code of Chicago (4-4-310 and 10-8-180):

“…a property owner, lessee, tenant, or other relevant person is responsible for removing “snow and ice from any sidewalk abutting such [property], and any sidewalk ramps intersecting such sidewalks.”

However, this does not account for a large number of locations, such as:

  • Curb cuts
  • Bus shelters
  • Highway over/underpasses
  • Bridges
  • Industrial sites
  • Sick, injured, or elderly property owners
  • Vacant buildings or lots
  • Inattentive or absent landlords or business owners

Fines and Enforcement

Failure to appropriately shovel can result in a fine up to $500, however, these citations are rarely issued. In 2022, WBEZ reported that of 6,000 complaints, the City only issued 1,600 citations.

Who benefits from municipal snow clearance?

Everyone. In particular…

Illustrated figures inside geometric shapes. From left to right are an elderly man walking, a blind woman using a white cane and guide dog, a woman using forearm crutches, and a mother pushing a stroller with a father carrying a small child.
  • 170,000 residents with mobility difficulties
  • 70,000 residents with blindness or vision impairment
  • 335,000 senior citizens
  • 110,000 households with at least one child under the age of 6

Additionally, there are innumerable people who do not have the option of staying or working from home, paying for rideshare, or owning their own car and need to be able to access public transportation. When snow and ice are not properly cleared they become hazardous to people and property.

Other positive outcomes:

  • Economic: When sidewalks are cleared, people can visit the local businesses in their neighborhoods, which are often independently owned
  • Public Safety: More people on the sidewalks means more eyes on the street and more intra-neighborhood familiarity
  • Environmental: Prioritizing pedestrian infrastructure enables people to reduce their car usage

Examples of sidewalk plowing programs in other cities:


  • Wilmette (≈37″ annual snowfall)
  • Forest Park (≈37″ annual snowfall)


  • Rochester, NY (≈99.5″ annual snowfall)
  • Syracuse, NY (≈118″ annual snowfall)
  • Minneapolis, MN (≈52″ annual snowfall)
  • Holland, MI (≈70″ annual snowfall)


  • Montreal (≈82″ annual snowfall) and Toronto*, Canada (≈47″ annual snowfall)

*It should be noted that Toronto, Canada, is nearly identical to Chicago in size, scale, and population density. Toronto and Chicago also have comparable miles of sidewalk and topography, but Toronto receives more annual snowfall than Chicago.

Supporting Organizations

  • Access Living
  • AARP – Illinois
  • Active Transportation Alliance
  • AIDS Foundation of Chicago
  • BPI
  • Better Streets Chicago
  • Center for Neighborhood Technology
  • Chicago, Bike Grid Now!
  • Chicago Family Biking
  • Chicago Jobs with Justice
  • Elevated Chicago
  • Equiticity
  • Free to Move Coalition
  • Independent Drivers Guild of Illinois
  • Jewish Council Urban Affairs
  • Metropolitan Planning Council
  • Metropolitan Tenants Organization
  • Northwest Center
  • Palenque LSNA
  • Shared Use Mobility Center
  • Southwest Collective
  • Urban Environmentalists
  • Westside Justice Center

Supporting Members of Chicago City Council

  • 1st Ward – Ald. Daniel La Spata
  • 12th Ward – Ald. Anabel Abarca
  • 20th Ward – Ald. Jeanette Taylor
  • 22nd Ward – Ald. Michael Rodriguez
  • 25th Ward – Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez
  • 33rd Ward – Ald. Rossana Rodriguez
  • 35th Ward – Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa
  • 36th Ward – Ald. Gilbert Villegas
  • 40th Ward – Ald. Andre Vasquez
  • 43rd Ward – Ald. Timmy Knudsen
  • 47th Ward – Ald. Matt Martin
  • 49th Ward – Ald. Maria Hadden
  • 50th Ward – Debra Silverstein